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Persecution Spotlight

[Note to readers: Via Meadia usually tries to post an update on religious persecution every Sunday; this holiday weekend with the team scattered to the four winds (and WRM stuck without internet access in the medieval Hilton Hotel at Heathrow Airport), Monday morning was the best we could do.]

“The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.” Lord Acton’s maxim casts a dim view on countries where minority religious groups are subject to brutality and persecution tacitly encouraged or, often enough, explicitly prescribed by law. This week’s spotlight is on adherents to the Ahmadiya faith, who suffer bitter persecution because many Muslims view them as heretical. Pakistan, home of the world’s largest Ahmadi community, has historically been the epicenter of anti-Ahmadiya violence. The past month, however, has seen a rash of mob attacks in Indonesia (horrifying video) on the small Ahmadi community there – and the distressingly feeble reaction by the judiciary.

The Ahmadiya religion is an offshoot of Islam practiced by several million people worldwide. It originated in British India in the late 19th century, and its members believe that the movement’s founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was the Islamic Messiah (Mahdi) foretold by scripture and prophecy. After post-colonial partition in 1947, most Ahmadis ended up in the newly created state of Pakistan, with another sizeable group across the border in India. Facing persecution for what other Muslims see as their quirky beliefs, many Pakistani Ahmadis have migrated to safer places like the United States or Great Britain. Meanwhile, Ahmadi missionaries have won a not insignificant number of converts around the world, especially in Africa and Southeast Asia. Like some other small and tight-knit religious groups, they often excel in business and are generally prosperous and well-educated.

The few million Ahmadis in Pakistan have long faced hostility, especially under the Muslim fundamentalist revival that has been heavily influenced by wealthy hardliners from Saudi Arabia since the Islamist military dictatorship of Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s. Under Haq, much Ahmadi worship was and still is criminalized, and Ahmadis are forbidden by law from calling themselves Muslims, calling their houses of worship “mosques,” and citing the Quran in public. To get a passport in Pakistan one must even sign a statement denigrating the founder of Ahmadiya.

All this is somewhat par for the course in a deeply divided Pakistan that both combats extremist violence and intolerance, and exports it to neighboring Afghanistan and India. Perhaps more startling is the appearance of such anti-Ahmadi violence in ordinarily mild Indonesia. This is partly the result of a radicalization of Islam promoted by money and literature emanating from conservative oil rich monarchies in the Gulf in schools and mosques around the world. It also reflects the spread of “hot religion” in an uncertain world; when people confront the stresses and uncertainties of urban, modern life, over-simplified and violent forms of religion can grow in appeal.  What happens in Indonesia is a warning sign for what could happen and is happening to other moderate Muslim populations throughout the world – Nigeria, Somalia, Bangladesh. Treatment of minority religious groups like the Ahmadiya, as well as Christians, Jews, Bahais, and other faiths, will be an important marker for the spread of this extremism.

Religious freedom — the freedom to practice and proclaim the faith (or absence of faith) of your choice, the freedom to teach it to your children, and the freedom to change your religion without interference by the state — is among the most basic of human rights.  It is also one of the most frequently violated.  The freedom to find God, to obey the dictates of conscience, to share the results of your spiritual search with those around you: these freedoms are essential for human dignity.

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  • WigWag

    “Perhaps more startling is the appearance of such anti-Ahmadi violence in ordinarily mild Indonesia…What happens in Indonesia is a warning sign for what could happen and is happening to other moderate Muslim populations throughout the world – Nigeria, Somalia, Bangladesh.” (Walter Russell Mead)

    It would be interesting to know why Professor Mead characterizes the Muslim populations of Nigeria, Somalia and Bangladesh as “moderate.” Nigerian Islamists are attacking their Christian neighbors with gusto and anti-Ahmadiya violence is as prevalent in Bangladesh as it is in Pakistan. See,

    As for Somalia, anyone who has read the books written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali would have a difficult time concluding that the form of Islam practiced in Somalia is “moderate.” That is unless you consider, forced consanguineous marriage of young girls, female genital mutilation and ubiquitous honor killings to be signs of moderation. See,


    Professor Mead is right about Indonesia though; it is the canary in the coal mine. Mead could just as easily have mentioned Malaysia and Turkey; two other supposedly “moderate” Islamic nations moving in a decidedly immoderate direction.

    Two books that are “must reads” for anyone operating under the delusion that “moderate” Islam is anything like what the West considers “moderate” are:

    1) Eliza Griswold’s “The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam”

    2) Paul Berman’s “Flight of the Intellectuals: The Controversy Over Islamism and the Press.”

    Griswold’s travels along the Tenth Parallel take her to many nations where Islam and Christianity meet. She describes in gripping and depressing detail how there is nothing “moderate” about how supposedly democratic nations like Malaysia and Indonesia treat their Christian populations.

    Berman’s book is also fascinating. He tracks the history of the “Muslim Brotherhood” which many pundits and leftist journalists insist is a “moderate” organization. Come to think of it, members of President Obama’s Administration are trying to make the same argument. Berman traces the lineage of the Brotherhood and one of its most articulate spokesmen, Tariq Ramadan, to show how they are rooted in Nazism and how their supposed “moderation” is really a strategy designed to deceive gullible westerners.

    Ramadan was offered a faculty position at Notre Dame only to be denied admittance into the United States by the Bush Administration because of his sympathy with terrorists. Of course, the Obama Administration lifted the ban and welcomed him into the United States with open arms.

    One of Professor Mead’s colleagues on the faculty at Bard ,the journalist Ian Buruma, was so besotted with Ramadan that he lovingly penned a defenses of Ramadan’s “moderate” views. In a debate in France with Sarkozy a few years before he assumed the French Presidency, Sarkozy asked Ramadan whether he condemned the Islamic practice of stoning women to death for adultery; Ramadan refused and suggested that at most a temporary postponement of the practice might be considered while Islamic religious authorities considered the issue more closely. Apparently that was enough for Buruma and even President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to conclude that Ramadan was a “moderate.”

    Given this interesting, lively and timely debate about what “moderation” is in the Muslim world, perhaps someday Professor Mead will share with his loyal readers exactly what he thinks the characteristics of “moderate” Islam are. Does he really think that the governments of Indonesia or Bangladesh are still “moderate” in the way they treat minority religious groups? Does he really think the form of Islam practiced in Somalia is “moderate?” Does he think Tariq Ramadan or his fellow travelers in the Muslim Brotherhood are “moderate?”

    My question is this; as “moderate” Islam disappears, how long will it be before the clash of civilizations between the Islamic world and the Western world becomes far more violent than it already is? While hoping for the best, wouldn’t it be wise to prepare for the worst? Is burying our heads in the sand really the smartest option?

  • Kris

    “What happens in Indonesia is a warning sign for what could happen and is happening to other moderate Muslim populations throughout the world – Nigeria, Somalia, Bangladesh.”

    Thank Allah that this could never happen with the moderate Muslim populations here in the West!

  • John Bautista

    Hey have you heard of this incident in India???
    let me know what you think!

    India: Preacher accused of forced conversion

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